Preparation of a Low-cost and Eco-friendly Superabsorbent Composite Based on Wheat Bran and Laterite for Potential Application in Chinese Herbal Medicine Growth

A low-cost and eco-friendly superabsorbent composite is prepared through the free-radical graft co-polymerization of wheat bran (WB), acrylic acid (AA) and laterite (LA) in an aqueous solution. Elemental map, scanning electron microscopy and Fourier transform infrared spectra revealed that the LA evenly distributed in the superabsorbent composite and wheat bran-g-poly(acrylic acid)/laterite (WB-g-PAA/LA) formed successfully. Thermogravimetric analysis confirmed that the WB-g-PAA/LA had high thermal stability. Furthermore, the properties of the WB-g-PAA/LA, such as swelling in saline solutions and degradation, are also assessed. The final WB-g-PAA/LA (5 wt%) superabsorbent composite attained an optimum water absorbency of 1425 g g−1 in distilled water and 72 g g−1 in 0.9 wt% NaCl solution. The water absorbency of WB-g-PAA/LA (10 wt%) is even greater than that of the WB-g-PAA. Moreover, the water-retention capacity of WB-g-PAA/LA (5 wt%) is high, and the water-retention process followed a zero-order reaction. The reaction rate constant is 8.2428 × 105 exp(−Ea/RT) and the apparent activation energy (Ea) is 35.11 kJ mol−1. Furthermore, WB-g-PAA/LA (5 wt%) may regulate the release of urea, indicating that the superabsorbent composite could provide a promising application as a urea fertilizer carrier. Additionally, it increased the germination and growth rates of Glycyrrhiza uralensis Fisch, suggesting it could influence the growth of Chinese herbal medicine.